The Five Smartest Things Tavi Gevinson Said Last Night

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Tavi Gevinson and Daniel Handler (L-R) on stage at the Commonwealth Club, Mar. 25, 2015. (Photo: Shelby Pope)

It’s easy to get intimidated by Tavi Gevinson. The 18-year-old began fashion blogging at 11, her gray bob quickly becoming a common sight in magazines and at fashion shows. At 15, she created Rookie, an online magazine for teen girls that receives about 900,000 visits per month and that's featured work by everyone from Zadie Smith to Killer Mike. In January, she wrapped up her first Broadway show, a revival of of Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, where she received rapturous reviews for her portrayal of the conflicted Jessica.

It’s also easy to dismiss Gevinson -- and her many accomplishments -- as an outlier. Yet for all of her personal success, she’s remained committed to sharing the stories and accomplishments of other teenage girls, whether in a sprawling interview with longtime Rookie fan Lorde or through the 100+ contributors she invites to write in Rookie, a good chunk of whom are teenagers.

That mission has brought her thousands of fans, some of whom -- a diverse crowd of teenage girls shepherded by their moms, women twice Gevinson’s age, and a healthy smattering of teenage boys -- came to the Commonwealth Club last night to see Gevinson accept the Club’s INFORUM's 21st Century Award. In a sold-out talk with author Daniel Handler, she talked about everything from Donnie Darko (she’s not a fan) to her productivity secrets (“I don't know how much of it is productivity and wanting to achieve something, and how much of it is just, like, mortality on my mind all the time.”)

If you weren't there, here are the five smartest Gevinson moments from last night's talk.

  1. As Gevinson leaves her teenage years, she’s figuring out how to make her experience relevant to her teen readers, who’ve followed her challenges and life changes in her intensely personal editor’s letters: “When I interviewed Lorde I was like, ‘Your first album is all about the suburbs, being bored in high school. Do you worry that you’ll be less relatable if all you have to sing about it the glamorous life of a pop star?’ For me this is all on a much smaller scale, but she was like, ‘As long as you’re sincere, people will relate to that.”
  2. Gevinson, a selfie pro, spoke about the power and sense of agency social media affords teenage girls: “I think that selfies, creating a profile, asserting your identity and creating yourself in your own image is really important, especially while there are like, Reddit threads of pictures took secretly of girls in public.”
  3. Gevinson said that while the vast majority of Rookie’s staff considers themselves feminists, the site doesn’t explicitly identify as a feminist publication-- there's less talk about the internal politics of the movement and more about how to give that sexist jerk in AP English the perfect bitchface“I’m not concerned so much with slowly brainwashing girls into identifying as feminists -- even though I think it’s important to use the word whenever relevant to remove some of the stigma -- but I am interesting in brainwashing girls into, like, good self esteem.”
  4. The Commonwealth Club asks everyone they interview their sixty second advice for improving the world. Gevinson’s response? Don’t have your phone be the first or last thing you look at in a day to give yourself the mental space to create: “I hate to be wagging a cane at social media, but I have found that I sometimes have trouble creating because I’m thinking too much about what it'll look like later. It’s taking me out of what’s around me, or making me feel like I’m constantly performing. I think it’s good to wake up, do your stuff, get dressed, and then see what's going on, instead of feeling constantly like you need to keep up, have an opinion, or show how cool your life is because you have brioche toast.”
  5. Gevinson’s response when asked if she had any advice for her younger self: “Just chill out and be nice to yourself. That’s generally my blanket advice for anyone.”